Our Plan

Reduce University-wide water use 30% by 2020, from a 2006 baseline. View our Plan

Our Progress

Water Conservation in the Built Environment

As part of the historic renovation of the Harvard Art Museum, an Environmental Passive Integrated Chamber (EPIC) system is being installed -- the first of its kind used for Cambridge’s public sidewalks. The EPIC system captures and filters reclaimed water (storm water runoff), storing it in our building’s cistern. This water is then delivered underneath the trees, which take in the water through capillary action. By collecting and deploying water in this way, we’re using less resources and energy to keep our trees healthy.

For the first time at Harvard, and as part of the historic House Renewal currently underway, rainwater is being collected and reused in toilets and for irrigation in order to reduce water use in Stone Hall. In the LEED Platinum certified Sherman Fairchild Laboratory building waste water from experiments is reused for toilet flushing to minimize water use.

Several buildings use non-potable water for other purposes. 5 Cowperthwaite St. and Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Clinical Wing building capture ground and roof water to be utilized for irrigation. The gray water system used at 5 Cowperthwaite includes a 32,800 gallon tank that collects storm water from the roof for use in irrigation. 

The parking lot of 46 Blackstone Street has porous paving. The original site was a 100% impervious parking lot. 658 tons of asphalt were removed and recycled. These pavers have recycled content and are expected to reduce stormwater runoff by over 37%. 46 Blackstone St. has a retention pond alongside the parking lot. Sand bed at the bottom of the pond filters solids out of the stormwater so that they are not carried into the soil. The bioretention pond also creates habitat for urban animal species. Drainage to the municipal sewer system has been eliminated

Waterless urinals and water saving shower heads and faucets have been installed in dormitories, classrooms, and office buildings throughout campus.

Green Roofs and Irrigation

Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Clinical Wing building (WCC) has two green vegetated roofs. The roof on Harvard Business School's Shad Hall is a living roof covering 5,200 sqare feet, planted with 9000 perennials. Additionally, Harvard Housing's Garden Street property has a green roof and roof garden

At the LEED Platinum 46 Blackstone Street, an irrigation free, organic lawn was developed in a courtyard that was previously a parking lot. Primarily composed of ornamental grasses that are designed to grow roughly six inches to a foot in height. In addition the use of drought tolerant plants is being utilized more frequently in designs

The implementation of organic landscaping on Harvard’s campus has significantly reduced water use. In the first year of use on Harvard Yard, the use of organic practices reduced the need for irrigation by 30%, or over 2,000,000 gallons per year, in part due to the development of deeper root growth permitting less frequent watering.

The use of weather data or sensors to adjust irrigation is in place on Harvard’s campus. The Business School has installed an irrigation system that adjusts by weather sensors. This system works by monitoring soil moisture levels, wind and temperature fluctuations. This system will adjust the water output automatically. Around 75 percent of the system in place throughout the Cambridge/Allston campus is controlled by rain sensor. The sensor will automatically turn the irrigation controllers off after a predetermined amount of rainfall (typically .75 – 1 inches) and then turn back on after a 24 to 48 hour dry out period.

Beyond the Bottle

Students and staff are leading efforts to reduce bottled water usage as part of our commitment to sustainability and creating less waste.  These initiatives range from the installation of refill stations in our buildings to educational campaigns to persuade our community to eliminate bottled water use and waste.

  • The student-run Environmental Action Committee is running a "Beyond the Bottle" campaign to reduce use of disposable plastic water bottles on campus. The Office for Sustainability and FAS operations teams are partnering with the students to establish a pilot program to install new filtered water stations at key locations.
  • The Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Clinical Wing was designed to discourage bottled water use by including refill stations throughout the building to refill water bottles and mugs. Many other Schools have installed water refill stations to discourage bottled water use including the Harvard Medical School, Holyoke Center, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
  • The Harvard Faculty Club recently eliminated use of bottle water in their restaurant and for events (resulting in eliminating the use of over 15,000 plastic and glass bottles annually). The Dining Halls have filtered water dispenser for students.
  • The Harvard School of Public Health has banned the sale of bottled water in Sebastians Café. Some Schools, including the Graduate School of Education have created maps to show their community where they can refill their reusable mugs and water bottles
  • At Commencement, instead of water bottles we use 5 gallon bottles of water to discourage waste.